Monday, December 31, 2007

Autobiography of An Actor - Sivaji Ganesan

A seven year old boy fascinated by the street play called "Kambalathaar Koothu" which has the story of Kattabomman, ran away from home to join the drama troupe , later immortalised the same character on Drama as well as on Cinema winning awards and accolades for the same "Kattabomman". Here is a story of one of the outstanding actors of Modern India , an actor most of the contemporaries envy and the subsequent actors tried to emulate.

Reading this book, brings back those nostalgic memories of my 5 years of Pondicherry life. Accompanying my ex-boss Sri Aravamudhan to those second show movies of yesteryear actors in the now extinct 'Naveena' and 'Kandan' theatres watching those Black&White movies. Watching those movies were like attending a class. He was so much informed of the stories and other background information of actors, movies, scenes etc. That was my entry into the grand world of Tamil Movies. Reading this was a similar experience. Stories, anecdotes, incidents and history all mixed and told from none other than the thespian of Tamil movies.

From a stricter sense, this is not an auto biography. It is in the form of question and answers. The biographer Sri T S Narayanaswamy asks questions to Sri Sivaji Ganesan and the replies are given. So, technically, it is more of dialogue and he justifies in one of the question as " the best way to clear an issue is through question and answer: thus this book is in such a format". The limitation of this style is that the thought process is not free flowing. It is not what Sri Sivaji Ganesan wants to tell us, it is what Sri TSN wants us to know. The direction and the control here is not with the ACTOR but he merely replies as directed by someone else. Having said that Sri TSN has done a commendable job in terms of covering all aspects of the life of the actor and controls the flow of thought and the chronological details. The acting, political and family aspect of his life was adequately covered in these discussion. Undoubtedly, hard work and research has gone into making this book.

The story starts from his childhood and with clarity sri Sivaji recollects the incidents of his birth, his father's arrest ("this child is born to send his father to jail") and the struggle of his mother to bring up the children. His fascination towards the street plays and the desire to act in plays , which leads to his running away from home at the age of 7 and joining the drama troupe. His rigorous training from the able drama artists and stalwarts in shaping up the actor in him and his gradual progress in the ranks as an established actor.

Here is the story of him adorned with the title of Sivaji in his own words.
"Sivaji Kanda Hindu Rajyam" a play written by Anna , for the Dravida Kazhakams Seventh Conference in 1946, was the reason for the title "Sivaji" ... It was MGR who was originally supposed to play the lead role. MGR refused for some reason and it had fallen on Ganesan to take the lead role. E V Ramaswami Naikar ( thanthai periyar ) who after watching the electrifying performance declared " Today onwards you will be called Sivaji".

Sivaji like all other actors from the Drama / theatre experience are known for their classical style of acting. They are so self confident , their body language the movements of limbs their hand eye coordination are all exact. I consider their style as the classical style of acting and it has the influence of drama all over them. It might not be admired by the current generation ( as over-acting ) , but he definitely opened a path for the later generation to follow. By the way , according to Sivaji this is justified as he puts it " Acting is exaggeration of emotions".

To me ( who is not fromTamilnadu) , Sri Sivaji is known for his amazing screen persona and his ability to be the centre of attraction on any character he portray. How many mythical and historical characters have he brought back to the mind of people. It is the way he mesmerised the audience with those long sentences written by Sri Karunanidhi and made them live evergreen in the mind of people. He claims to have the Guinness world record for the longest sentence spoken in a movie, shot in single shot for approximately 9 minutes.

He has clear understanding about thin line between the character and actor in a performance. This is one topic hugely misunderstood and continue to be debated. He says:
"Actors should not remark that they have morphed to become the characters, which is not correct. Only mis informed people would say so. If he gets emotional, his vision clouds and he wouldn't know where the heroin stands, where the mike is and where the camera placed. The marking of a good actor stands out only when he is able to slip in and out of his character without actually being touched by it. This is why I implore actors not to be emotionally attached to their characters."

When coming to lip-sync I cant see any other actor who comes closure. He is perfect and create an impression with his lip , face and the vocal chord changes that it is performed by him. "Moving one's lips for a song and singing a song are two different things. While I listened ( the song to be shot) , I would enquire about the number of shots that had been allocated to me, rehearse a few times. While shooting, I would absorb the song and hum the tune, this is to get the rhythm of the song and to create an illusion that I was singing. "

What comes out strongly through this conversation is his passion for this medium and his strive to excel in each performance, be it on the stage during a drama or on scene for a movie. His pride and confidence about his stature as the best actor is evident in these words and rightly so. There was not an actor like him and there wont be one.

On the other hand, we also see a not so successful public person. His multiple attempts in the political arena have failed miserably time and again. His closeness to Anna, Kamaraj and other political icons have not won him great strides in the political systems. Of course he blame ( without naming) vested interests working against him continuously. His repeated errors have an answer from him, but are too feeble to be convincing to the reader ( that is me !!).

He is a nationalist and his love towards the country ( which many times goes beyond the local boundaries of Tamil Nadu) and its leaders are absolutely strong. Apart from the PadmaSri and Padmabhushan awards ( which are no less in terms of value attached) , I'm not sure if we ( the country) have recognised him for his acting. He has not won any national award ( though his movies have won many awards at the national level) and it has to be the Afro-Asian Film Festival to recognise him and award him with the best actor.

The discussions also touches his personal life ( to a much shorter extend) and we see his relationship with his mother, wife, siblings and his children. He is also comes out as a friendly person with his co-stars and his directors ( whom he says respect the most in the sets to one of the question) and shows his admiration to his contemporaries in cine field.

We also see a smart person in here. There are only good things to talk about. Except his political setbacks ( which is dealt in multiple places), he doesn't discuss much of his struggle as an actor ( except when he was introduced to film field during Parashakthi ). May be he was an established actor prior to his joining the films and was always delivered numerous hits to discuss the low phases of his career ( The list of Silver Jubilee and hundred days films are astonishing to note) . Also, this book is noncontroversial. He has not rubbed anyone at the wrong place. Even while discussing his political disasters , he refuses to name people but merely passes them as "vested interest". He also clarifies in the negative about his rumored tiff with the other big actor of his time , MGR. He gives enough and more of evidences to prove that he and MGR enjoyed a very friendly and close relationship.

Smt Sabita Radhakrishna has done the translation from Tamil to English. One could understand the difficulty in translating the colloquial Tamil into English, and it is evident in the early pages. The translation was much better later on as she seems to have moved out of word by word translation. The book also has a huge collection of photographs from his life as well as from the films.

This is an invaluable book. It gives you the fascinating story of cinema in general and Tamil Cinema in particular in the second half of the 20th Century with the inseparable political spectrum( inseparable as far as Tamil Nadu is concerned) though the life and times of a man who lead this from front. Though he is no more ( the book is released on his 75th birthday -post his death), he will remain in memory of millions and millions of film goers, from critics to common man and aspiring young artists continue to practice the lengthy dialogs from his movies to impress the listeners.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

This Is Your Brain on Music - Daniel J Levitin

I haven't learnt music. These days I am deeply attracted to Carnatic music and with my limited exposure, I'm amused at my ability to identify a mohanam , a kharaharapriya or a thodi. I have always thought, of how am I able to do this. Unlike people who have learnt music where they can construct - de-construct the lines to swaras and associate the arohana-avarohana pattern to the appropriate ragam, I can not do that. But I can identify most of the ragams, and how is it possible. It is possible only by referring to my earlier listening and successful comparison to a similar krithi / song stored somewhere within me....

Here is a book that can help you to find some answers to these. It had given me direction on some of the stupid ( not really ) doubts I had..

Daniel Levitin, a neuro-scientist, talks about the way our mind understand music and how the brain processes or participate in processing these information. This book is not entirely on music. It is more on the science of music ( neuro science to be precise). Levitin, before becoming a scientist, was a musician, a sound engineer and a record producer.

The book starts with the basic music theory and explanation of the key concepts and words in the music arena. What is Tone, Scale, Rhythm, Timber , pitch , tempo etc. I found this very useful and informative as a layman on timber. I had always wondered on how does different instrument sound differently, even though they play the same NOTEs and have tuned to the same pitch. I knew that it had to be something to do with the harmonics. It is only now that I found a proper answer that satisfies my doubts. According to him, timbre itself has 3 dimension .. the Attack phase ( when the energy is introduced to the instrument - by bowing, plucking or striking) , the steady state and the flux. If the attack phase is editted out of the instrument ( or the music) , most of the instrument sound similar..!! This also explains to me the principle of "Synthesizers", or the artificially ( electronically) produced sound.

The next chapter is on the Rhythm. Again, the key words are tempo , meter , beats and one can draw parallel to our on "thaLa" systems in carnatic music. The corresponding pictures and charts are as complex as some of the charts given in the concert reviews by my friend Ram.

Interesting observation is on the loudness. Loudness is a psychological phenomenon, or loudness doesn't exist in the world, it exists only in the mind. By increasing the volume of your stereo systems, you are increasing the amplitude of vibration of the molecules, which in turn interpreted as loudness by brain. Why do people like loud music , most of the rock shows are played loud to the thrill and excitement of the crowd. Part of the reason, he says, could be that loud music saturates the auditory systems, causing neurons to fire at maximum rate.

To sum it up, there are 7 major elements into music, which are understood and acted upon by the brain. Pitch, Timber, Key , Harmony , Loudness , rhythm, meter and tempo. The subsequent chapters discussed how does each of these are processed within brain. I don't intend to get into the technical aspect of neurons firing upon listening to the music and which part of brain understand what aspect of music. These are very technical and I haven't studied neuro-science to decipher this fully. However, let me tell you some interesting observation and questions out of these reading..

a) Our brain has powers in processing these information and store them. Brain form predictive opinion about what is expected to come next, and any surprise to this will make us to distinguish the music from others ( and appreciate).. The preconceived idea of what is coming next could be genetics, early listening, similarity with what is already heard ( familiarity , exposure to the style etc). When you go for a rock concert you know what to expect vis a vis a carnatic classical concert. These information are already stored within us and are re-produced at will. Which is why some of the music is ever lasting and one wants to hear them again and again ( they never cease to surprise this part of the brain ?).

b) The concept of pitch , rhythm and scales are alive in every human being. Even if you can't sing with correct pitch and scale you are able to remember the song ( humming to yourself) with absolute clarity on these aspect. Try singing "Happy birthday to you" to inside and see..!!

c) Brain identifies the tonal quality of different instruments and people , if experienced already. Which is why you are able to identify the person on the other side of the phone ( without seeing them), even when he/she is suffering by a bad throat.

d) Brain also stores the associated events in memory along with the music. This is why we can recollect certain events of our life while listening to your favorite music. Same song, repeatedly brings those memories back to you.

e) Though not proven convincingly ( to me at least), there are certain elements of genetics in your music ability. Apart from the ambience , culture and exposure, this is also a reason on why some people are better musically , and other ( like me) are not. Child prodigies are partly natural , hard work notwithstanding..

f) As discussed, different aspect of music triggers different parts of the brain. Unlike the perception, music appeals to both left and right brains similarly. ( I used to joke as other musicians appeal to the right half of the brain and TNS appeals to the left !! ) .

In his chapter "What makes a Musician" he examines how do people become expert musicians ? Musical expertise hasd always been defined as technical achievements - mastery of instruments / vocal. How does this explain the word "talent" ? Is the high levels of musical achievement are based on innate brain structures ( is this talent ?) or are they the result of training and practice ? It is evident that 'talented' person acquire skills faster than a normal person. Different people have different 'talents' or different brain structure. Some people have a biological predisposition towards particular instruments, or towards singing. He says, there may be a cluster of genes that work together to create the component skills that one must have to become a successful musician.

Also, why are some musicians are superior to others when it comes to emotional ( versus technical) dimension of music ? no one knows for sure. So called "bhava" in music being discussed elsewhere is coming to my mind. Stevie Wonder says, he gets himself into the same frame of mind when he wrote the song; he tries to capture the same feeling and sentiment.
Why is that some singing are very likable ? In spite of their technical and other errors, why do people prefer to listen to certain singers ? Why is that whenever, M S Subbalakshmi , KVN , Yesudas ( and many others) have always an attraction ? Notwithstanding their ability and technical knowledge , they also have sweet voice. It is true even on conversation. Some people have voices which are very "phonogenic" ( as Levitin calls it).
Physical gestures: Studies are also shown that non-musician listeners are exquisitely sensitive to the physical gestures of the musicians. By watching musical performance with the sound turned off, and attending to things like the musicians arm, shoulder and torso movements, ordinary listeners can detect a great deal of expressive intent of the musician. See , now you understand the gestures of T M Krishna and Sanjay ( as though they are driving an old Leyland truck through Western Ghats) during their concerts.

The aspect of chunking is also an interesting point. Chunking is the process of tying together units of information into groups and remembering the group instead of the individual pieces. for example STD codes. Musicians also use chunking in several ways ? Does the 'karvais' at the end of the swara singing in carnatic, can be classified under this ?

The book is full of results experiments and the analysis to support the topics discussed. Being brain, we have very little information on how does it behave and all the scientist are able to do is to observe the changes of various parts of brains with the measurements using EEG. This added to the experiments can lead us to a better understanding of the functions of brain musically.

An extremely interesting books for people who wants to know about the aspects of music , both scientific and conceptual. Though this book is more on the scientific in nature, it has written in a manner ( with case studies, anecdotes, history , examples) that even layman can understand.

Few questions remain.. Scientifically, how have we evolved musically ? Leave alone the technical innovations and invention of newer musical instruments, does the human brain understand and appreciate music better over generations ?

This Is Your Brain on Music - The Science of a Human Obsession
Written by Daniel J Levitin
313 Pages
Added on 05-Feb-08
Guru has read the book and have his thoughts here.
Added on 08-Feb 08
BERNARD HOLLAND Writes in NYTimes about the mannerisms of the musicians on stage..
It’s another reason classical music is not reaching more young people: not because of how it sounds, but because of how it looks. Even worse, lugubrious gymnastics like these advertise the feelings of performers, not of Beethoven or Schumann. Music is asked to stand in line and wait its turn.
Read the article here

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Regarding the pain of Others - Susan Sontag

Television Channel across the world, celebrated the hanging of Saddam Hussain by repeatedly telecasting the last few minutes including the hanging process. These images continue to be in the mind of viewers for few years. I still recollect the photograph of the hanging of Gen Najibulla of Afghanistan. Naked and castrated, hanging from a tree in a cold winter morning !!

Susan Sontags new book is on the way we see, understand and react to the world of war and cruelty across the world. In continuation to her book 'on photography' here too she looks at the subject by visual images and our interest and understanding of the "pain". She discusses many issues related to war, genocide and history. The discussion is deep and covers many aspects from literature, mythology and history. Her interpretation are original, her commentary on the writings of others Wolf in detail are very appropriate.

War is a manly affair. It is participated, celebrated and 'enjoyed' by men. The only participation ( exceptions notwithstanding ) of women in this spectacle are as the victims. No war story is complete without the description of the atrocities against women and the humiliation. Naturally, war and related stories are viewed, discussed and participated by men.

From the early ages, war, pain and suffering associated with war are always figured in the cultural world. Be it the epics or the mythical stories, they are all on this. More than the stories of winning, we wanted to tell / hear the stories of our sufferings and pain.

Susan Sontag says our interest in watching the pain of others are voyeuristic. We derive a pleasure in watching the suffering of others and ourselves. We celebrate the pain, we talk about them that we talk about the good times we had. It is happening elsewhere, not in my place, I'm not participating in it , but I like to see the sufferings, the pain and the destruction.

It used to be the paintings which initially captured the gruesome images of wars and devastation. Most of them were glorified and exaggerated and was always an after effect. They were the result of imagination and hearsay. With few exceptions such as Guernica , not many of them did not shock the world.

With the invention of photography, there was more sanctity to the images. There was a feeling of "truth" in them as these were shot at real locations. These weren't imagination , but actual. As the technology progressed, with color photography, movies and television we had the real life stories available at real time. Everything related to war and sufferings became visual.

These techniques have been used effectively by the propagandist. Images of devastation, murder and atrocities are used for gathering support. Iraq, Bosnian , Vietnam etc are examples. Some of them are also displayed proudly to celebrate , felling of the statue of Lenin, Saddam, Flag on Berlin, Capture of enemy Generals etc. There are also examples of exhibitionism and demonstration as warning signal to your enemy.

There are also instances of setting up the images to satisfy your viewers and readers. Some of the earlier photography with re-arranged skeletons and others were a clear arranged shoot. The famous Falling Soldier itself was under the scanner.

The whole things changed after the introduction of moving pictures. Images from World Wars , the Vietnam war and the subsequent movie portraits of these wars had given new viewing opportunity to the people. Here there is nothing left to your imagination, there is no ambiguity about the pre , post instances as in the case of photography. During the first Gulfwar, this has become a real-time broadcast of war , like a sports event. Kargil war made us count heads in terms of casualties at both sides. We stopped the counting in the new Iraq war ( there are occasional US Soldier Casualties published).

Movies always taken inspiration from these stories and events. Exaggerated portrayal of individuals and community sufferings were the theme for many a movies. Such movies, and literary works ( usually comes out after the events takes place , Nazi concentration Camps for eg. ) is received as classics.

There is also a discussion about the increasing immunity level of the reader/viewer. Some of the images does not shock you any more. Some of the figures of death passes of casually, without much hype. We as individual and as society is getting immune to such news. This has become commonplace.

People also like to remember and re-live these days. There are multiple war memorials, Nazi concentration camps and notorious jails of torture retained as historical museums. People find some sort of satisfaction in visiting such places and discussing the events.

The question is what are we learning from these ? Does these images teach you something ? Or is this only to satisfy the voyeur in you ?

A very compelling and though provoking book by Susan Sontag. This book does not provide you with any answers. I like the closing remarks, there are realities , which no picture can convey....
Written by : Susan Sontag
Picador Books
124 Pages

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Sooryavamsam - Methil Radhakrishnan

It has been long since I read a Malayalam Novel in the book form. " Nhangalude manja pusthakam" was the last. I like Methil Radhakrishnan and his style. He was one of the modernist in the litereary genre and had been always talked about as a different writer. I have been reading him earlier. Bangalore Book Festival gave an opportunity to get hold of his earlier book.

Sooryavamsam, looks into the death of one Chakrapani, through the directly affected pepole. Dr Prasad, at whose residence, chakrapani was found dead, on an overdose of sleeping pills and Yamuna, young poet and writer who had a night of "life" with the deseased. Jayadevan, who is a friend of Prasad, gets in between these scene as a silent party listening to multiple threory of murder and suicide. This short book does not have a strong story line to boast, but has some interesting discussion.

Written in the 70s, this book has to be looked at as one of the initial post modern writing. apart from that fact, I was not impressed by this as a fiction.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"The World was silent when we died" was the name Ogwu gave his book. It was not the name invented by him, it was the name of the book Richards was writing and abandoned after the war ended.

Half of a Yellow sun ( the Official Flag of Biafra), is based on the times before and during the troublesome period in Nigeria's existence during the 60s. A Novel by this young writer, is looking at the time and life of two sisters ( twins) of a rich business family. Olanna , who is more educated and having an affair with the progressive and revolutionary thinking professor Odenigbo of Nsukka University. Kainene the second has inclination towards business and is planning to run the family business and has an admirer , Richards a self proclaimed writer and journalist, from Britain. Their respective life is on the roll until the political and social situation in Nigeria started to change. Started as an angry outburst against the Igbo community, who are from the southern part of the Nigeria, controls majority of the wealth and are better educated and better living, it soon changed into riots and attack. Most of the Igbo people were forced to leave Lagos and other northern part of the country and were forced back to Southern Nigeria.

Igbo community soon started re-grouping under the erstwhile army commanders and soon the civil war is started. Now under the name of Biafra, Igbo and other minor communities has declared independence and the struggle to establish a country with political and economical self - sufficiency. The bloody war and the loss of human life continued until 1970 by which the Nigerian Army with the help of external forces were able to take control of the most of the region. So much from the history.
The story is about the people and their struggle during the troublesome period. Adichie, brings out a beautiful narration, without getting into the sentimental terrain, to show the story of the Biafran people. Until the last days, they were under the hope and promise of victory. Their will power to endure all the sufferings for the cause of a better tomorrow, never ends.
This story is also about Odenigbo, who as an intellectual gives out all from his capacity for the cause of Biafra. It is also about Ugwu, the house boy at Odenigbo, who comes from a poor family, learning his way by listening to the intellectual debates at his master's house with the book he read from his master. It is also about Richards, his admiration for Kainene , makes him to abandon his interest in ancient art of Igbo paintings and move in with her. He also uses his ability to write and uses his British Nationality to send articles about the struggle of Biafra to the European public.
Through the life of Olanna, this novel shows us the depreciating quality of human life in Biafra. Having moved to Nsukka to be with Odenigbo, to the displeasure of her parents and leaving the rich and lavish life of the wealthy family, she was set to experience a new life. From the decent house of the professor, the War had made them to vacate the place with only a pair of dress in hand, to Odenigbo's home town. The spread of war and approaching Nigerian Army made them fled again to a still smaller place , before ending in a smallest, filthy one room attic with the lowest possible living conditions. The families are under stress, Odenigbo gets into despair and drinking as a result. Igwu has been captured by the Biafran Army for fighting against the Nigerians. While all these happens, Olanna continue to support the cause of Biafra, by her means, Kainene chip in to run the relief supply until her disappearance.

Certain chapters end with a kind of footnotes which I guess is from the book being written but Ugwu under the name of The World was silent when we died. This I found was unnecessary and was out of place in most cases.

This book has already won lot of acclaim and literary awards and is heralded as the new era in literature. Is the literary scene is moving away from Latin America towards Africa ? There are definite indication ....
Half of a Yellow Sun
Author : Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Published by Harper Perenniel
433 Pages
Rs 295

Saturday, October 13, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth & the Nobel Prize

"Another couple of Tsunamis and Bangalore will have a coast line" was the comment made by one of my friend after the devastating Tsunami hit South East Asia in Dec 2005. Though we made fun of it, I fear ( yes, I do ) that it is a distant possibility.

Watching "An inconvenient Truth" make you think , if not worried about the future of this planet. While there are many discussions and debates over growth versus nature, some of the statistics and facts ( he uses the pictorial representation of the damage between 60s and now) is sure enough to make an impact to the viewers.

The damage is multi-fold. One on the natural resources, on the in habitants and fellow living beings on the planet, the rising temperature and depleting ice-cover... to make it faster, an uncontrolled population growth.

Al Gore has done a commentable job with presentation and relentless effort to propagate the alarming state of affairs.

I wonder, if nature has a way to make some amends... There is a way to bring equilibrium within the nature, and some of the calamities we see could be a ersult of the same.

It is important that as many people as possible watch this movie. Whatever small impact it can create positively, worth the effort.

By awarding Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with the Nobel Prize for peace, the requierd international attention on this fact would be improved.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

This I believe - an A to Z of a Life by Carlos Fuentez

This I believe, is a statement. There could be different, individual views and opinion on everything discussed. But Carlos Fuentez writes with the conviction, which gets across to the reader in all its delicacies.

A collections of essays categorised under A to Z ,as the name suggests , Fuentez discusses various topics on Cultural, Art , Writing, His family, Economics and history each of them demonstrates his deep involvement and understanding of the topics.

Written by a popular latin American novelist, the style and writing is as easy as reading a fiction by him. He gives the same amount of detachment, while writing about his young son ( who is no more) , about his wife and his personal issues as he write about Mexico, Shakespere or faulkner. The same intensity, while discussing the socio-cultural issues of Mexico and similar Latin American Countries.

His writings about the art and literature are dealt with more serious analysis and introspection. Bunuel , Falukner , Shakespere, Balsac, Kafka and others are looked at as a fellow writer who draws inspiration from their works and efforts and it is interesting to observer, how the erstwhile generation writers influence the present day genious. I have always been curious on these observations. As in the case of Milan Kundera, Fuentez also gets into the details of the first ever novel ( or at least , I believe so) of Cervantez "Don Quixote" and its structure as a novel.

There are many times, the books tends to be towards autobiographical and philosophical. However, while he is on the topics related to culture and religion( Christ , God etc) we see a different writer, who looks at the this more objectively. For example, he says the resurrection is signifying the emancipation of human kind as a whole and not the resurrection of Christ the individual.

This is an extreamly interesting book I have read in recent times and I strongly recommend this to all.
352 Pages

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Motorcycle Diaries

Watching the movie adaptation of famous literary works have always disappointed me. Barring a few, I always found the experience of reading the book , is far superior and fulfilling to watching the film.

I wonder why. There could be multiple reasons. It could be my limitations...

When I read a book, I give the characters shape according to my understanding and likeliness. The places , people , the atmosphere, time are filled in automatically as per my requirement to give me a sense of being part of the plot. I dictate the tone, the voices to the wording given by the author, I dress them up. I have already visualized the physical , mental , emotional part of the character. I give them the shades of goodness and badness.

If the films does justice to this, that is , to my way of visualizing the novel, I come out satisfied. More often than not, it happens on the contrary.

What we see in the cinematic version of the book is the directors version of the understanding. It is his visualization of the book we get to see. It is his experience, and interpretation. They seldom match at the first time. I'm not suggesting that it is in correct. If you haven't read the book, you might still like it.

Reading a book, thus, become a personal experience. This is guided by multiple factors. It is your experience, your gender, your place of birth and being, your age, your knowledge and education , your growth as a reader ( yes, reading the same book at different ages of your life gives you very different perspective). While cinematic version of popular fiction could be less complicated ( and we are not discussing them), the literary genre fiction for adaptation will be challenging.

Watching "The motorcycle Diaries" made me think in these lines. This movie for one, gave me a very different view. I did not like the book form of "The motorcycle diaries". Yes I understand that it was written when 'Che' was 20 yrs old and was a medical student. Yes , he was in his early ages of his short life, and this journey has helped him in his progression as a revolutionary as they say ; but it failed as a literary work for me. May be, I had high expectations from a 20yr old writer. May be it was Che Guevara's book to me than a medical students diary and letters. But the film was a different story altogether. It impressed me , for its stunning visuals, for its beautifully crafted screen play and dialogues. for its characterization. There aren't many instances where I have liked the adaptation of fiction into movies. The last I remember (as I liked )was "Il Postino" , adaptation of the book written by Antonio Skarmeta.

There are cases where I was impressed with a movie and bought the original fiction. One of the recent such case was "Red Shorgum" by Mo Yan.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Carlos Fuentez on Globalisation

I'm reading the book by the renowned Mexican Novelist Carlos Fuentez titles "This I believe - an A to Z of a Life". While the normal review will be done after I finish reading, I found this chapter on Globalisation very interesting and thought provoking. My thoughts on some of these were in line with the author, even before I read his ideas and opinion on some of these. Here are some points.. written in italics are from the book.

Having lived through the four eras ( note : he talks of the 4 major turning points in 20th century - revolution and fascism, World war, guerrilla movements and unrest in Latin America and globalisation) , I can now state that globalisation is the name of a power system. Just like the holy spirit, it has no boundaries, just like Mount Everest, it is there. But like Latin God Janus, it has 2 faces. The good face is that of technical and scientific progress, the accessibility to and dissemination of information, the universalisation of the concept of human rights etc.. But it has another, less attractive side. The sheer speed of technological progress leaves behind - perhaps forever - those countries , that aer unable to keep up with the pace.

I would like to add here; it leaves behind large number of people across world ,also within the same country, if the development and progress there off are not distributed appropriately. Which is why the 'state' has a very definite role to play.

Free trade increases the advantages to be gained by massive, competitive corporations ( which are very few) and crushes small and medium industries. As a result of this, globalisation widens the gap between rich and poor, both internationally and within the nation.

I tend to agree with the initial part, however the story of widening the gap between rich and poor are the arguments of the "Anti-globalisation" team. From what I have seen, it had brought in better living standards to a large section of people and the absolute number of people living below poverty line has decreased ( in India) if we go by the statistics. May be the rich have become richer, many poor has become better off. While, it has to be seen how it turns out to be on a longer run. India is relatively new entrant into this race and have reaped more benefit as of today.

Can the political world resume control over the anarchy of the markets ? Does the state have a role in the globalised world ? There are. It can. It does. ....what is most necessary is a state that can regulate and set standards.

I'm not sure if this is entirely true. While I agree with the role of the state, it is often seen ( at least in the developed world) that the state consists of people who serve the interest of the industry houses ( either directly , or by proxy). In such cases, the regulation will have no meaning.

Effective participation in the global arena can only begin with sound governing n the local arena.

All the developed states embarking Globalisation are already at an advanced stage of this. It is the developing countries like India , who need to work at this.

The first era of globalisation took place, during the age of discovery, the days of circumnavigation of the globe... global process of conquest, colonisation and mercantile rivalry.

Hmm..interesting point. But the trade was always there. We had Arabs and Mongols were doing business with India, even before the Portuguese and the Spanish team.

We can not fall into the trap of attributing terrorism to a historical hatred of the US, to the corruption and inefficiency of Islamic States, and much less to the clash of cultures. No: we should agree that the deepest of conflict in our world aer instability, illegality, poverty , exclusion and in general terms, the absence of a new legality for a new reality.

Very well said. If you look at any of the conflict across world, it is always between the haves and have not. Ethnicity , religion , culture, language etc are only the external face of the issue.
Exclusion , very powerful word. And this will determine the future of globalisation.

A new legality for a new reality !! I would be interested in discussing and listening to this further...

There are many more interesting points discussed and I picked up some of them which I found interesting... More on this later..

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

'Don't Tell' - Directed by Cristina Comencini ( Italian)

Nominated for best foreign language movie at Oscars and winner of some festival awards.

Surfacing of hidden unpleasent memories form the childhood comes back as nightmares for young Sabina. These nightmares torments her regularly on her sleep. Unable to discuss this with her boyfriend who is living with her and her close friend Maria, she decides to speak to her brother who is a professor in the University of Virginia living with his wife and two kids. She travels to the US to meet her brother and the real story of childhood abuse by their father on the young kids comes out of the troubled brother.

This movie is about a brother and sister coming to terms with their painful childhood. Her brother narrates the incidents of his torture(!) and explains the reasons of her nightmares as she too was a victim of the so called abuse. He admits, that he is having trouble hugging his own children because of the events in the past.

Otherwise a regular movie and there is nothing extra ordinary to mention. All the actors have put in very good performance.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Measuring the World - Daniel Kehlmann

"You always understood more than what you know" says the prince of mathematics to the king of the seas, two very different scientists are about to meet at a conference in Berlin in 1828. Arguably a literary sensation of 2007, this book was recommended to me by Srihari and it indeed was a good recommendation.

Based on the lives of 19th-century explorer Alexander von Humboldt and a contemporary, mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss, Kehlmann's novel, takes us through the lifes of these extra ordinary induviduals through their journey ; one around the world, and the other to his inner world of mathematics.

Humboldt, a mine-inspectors travels across the South American continent "measuring every river, mountain , and lake". While Gauss, a mathematician , never stepped out of his small town of Göttingen , measure and mark the little county as land surveyer for a living. While Humboldt corrects the wrongs done by his predecessors on the the hieghts , distance and the maps and climbs the popularity chart as a legend in this field , the other gets through the complications of mathematical formula ( he even leaping out of bed on his wedding night to write down a formula) and other scientific discoveries in his home country , gets to a cult figure with his odd mannerisms and remarks.

Two very different scientists are about to meet at a conference in Berlin in 1828. The prince of mathematics and the emperor of the voyage. As Humboldt doubts, one could no longer have said which of them had travelled afarand who stayed at home ( the one staring throught the telescope at heavenly bodies from his small room or the one who travelled across continent making it his home wherever he had been) ?

A very well writtten book and with crisp pace, this book will attract any serious reader with its underlying humour and charecterisation.

Measuring the World
Daniel Kehlmann translated by Carol Brown Janeway
Published by Quercus, London
Rs 395 Hardcover

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

2046 - Wong Kar Wai

"All memories are traces of tears," the most recognised line from the film is the underlying message of the Wong Kar Wai film "2046".

2046 considered as a sequel to the more recognised "In the Mood for Love". Moving between fantacy ( moving in a train to year 2046 and meeting with androids) and the real life story surrounding a mysterious room 2046 in a hongkong hotel , this movie is around a writer, during the late 60s.

The movie as narrated by the lead charecter, moves around multiple women in his life during his stay at Hongkong and Singapore as a writer. The settings, generally indoors and dim lighted with some soul stirring slow music with subtle style of acting by all charecters was able to get the sense of loss and sadness to me.

Though this movie was in contention for GOLDEN PALM at Cannes, it had not won any notable awards and is generally week and confusing in plot.

There is a detailed review with the storyline is available here from wiki and , critic review from bright lights film journal is here.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Undercover Economist - Tim Harford

We are witnessing one of the fastest changing era. Especially, this side of the planet where I'm in. You can be a supporter or a critic of this phenomenon but you cant escape the same. Look around you, the landscape is changing every day. Newer buildings newer roads and more and more shops and super markets and vehicles. Added to this is pollution, corruption , crime and poverty. This book is about all that and is from an economist.

This very well written book by Tim Harford looks at these common things that is changing our lives from an economists view point and takes us through the complex economic affairs in his simple language. From the cost of coffee at the railway station bar to the cost of insurance and from environment to Gobalisation he discusses vast subjects. There are no jargons or theory used and there are no major charts or graphs to confuse th reader. Neither does he gets into the serious microeconomics discussions.

I for one, is not in agreement with some of his opinions on Globalisation , but still enjoyed reading his perspective on the same. While I've not learnt Economics, world commerce and trade always nterested me and and I found this book worth reading.
Little Brown Books
Rs 295
278 Pages

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Rainer Maria Rilke Translated by M D Herter Norton

This book is supposed to be the only novel written by the famous 20th Century poet and that was my attraction in buying this book. If you plan to read this book, let me warn you , it is not an easy read. This book is quite a hard read and needs a lot of concentration and attention. This book is very lyrical, I guess it come naturally from a poet.
Written as a collection of notes and musings, this book is of random recollections of his childhood and growing up in a royal familiy. A very depressive or dark essays with the once fashionalble 'existential touch' , this book hit you in a very different way. The lack of flowing storyline and the predeominant negative mood of life through out, this book makes it a slow and hard read. Rilke maintains that this is not autobiographical, however the charecters and places makes one to believe it otherwise. As one of the reader suggested this book is about the crisis modern existence. Death is a constant companian through out the pages. May be there is an underlying necessity for Rilke to tell this story of his childhood, family and upbringing, as if he is searching something within.
Somehow, this language did not appear to me as clear and conventional. I'm not sure if I could get beyond the written words and find the hidden meaning. Rilke himself put it as " There will come a day when my hand will be far from me, and when I bid it write, it will write words I do not mean. The time of that other interpretation will dawn, when not one word will emain upon another, and all meaning will dessolve like clouds and fall down like rain."
I may have to go back to this book at another time and may I have better luck with it.

Rainer Maria Rilke Translated by M D Herter Norton
235 Pages

Pick: She was far away when she read, and I dont know whether she was in her books; she could read for hours, she seldom turned the leaves, and I had the impression that the pages became steadily fuller under her eyes, as though she looked words into them, certain words that she needed and that were not there.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

കഥകളിയുടെ രംഗ പാഠ ചരിത്രം - Killimangalam Vasudevan Namboodiri & M P S Namboodiri

Kathakali as an art form has had many followers all over the world. Me too have grown up watching, discussing , listening to Kathakali and related stories. However, there are very few serious writings on this field. For an art form with a history over 300 years , constantly improving and developing newer techniques and styles calls for many more studies and analysis. Majority of the information available to us are from the practitioners of the art itself and that too from the later part of the 20th century. While this is important and gives us a insider view, it is also important that we have the people from the 'follower' or 'connoisseur' community to write about this.

What is available now from this point of view is only a handful, lead by "Kathakali Rangam" by Sri K P S Menon. I personally know many capable and elderly personalities with their expertise and experience in this field. It is important to get this wealth of information / data / stories preserved for the coming generation.

I have just finished reading a brilliant book by Sri Killimangalam Vasudevan Namboodiripad with Sri M P S Namboodiri, titled "Kathakaliyude Rangapattha charithram". Sri Killimangalam Vasudevan Namboodiripad is kathakali personified with his experience as administrator and close proximity to the changes of this art. Sri MPS Namboodiri served as the Principal of Kerala Kalamandalam and is one of the leading performer of Kathakali.

Let me tell you up-front that I'm not qualified or learned enough to comment on this subject. I expect other experts to do that. However, I can say what impressed me in this book. The book looks back at the history of Kathakali and the changes it went through from the inception stages of "Ramanattam". It also looks at the different schools of training and performance and the improvements brought in by each schools. What is admirable is the way the book is structured. It examines the art from the writers ( Kartrupadham) , the performance ( Rangapadham), the training ( Shikshanapadham) and the audience (aswadanapadham). This complete the circle. From the 'Vageyakara's ( taking a cue from carnatic music) to the performers and followers he is looking at the progress of Kathakali focussing on Kottarakkara, Vettam , Kottayam, Kaplingad . Kalladikode and Kalluvazhi schools.

Understandably, majority of the quotes are taken from the 'Kathakali rangam' and with his interpretation, this books gives us the insight of the changes it had gone through over the centuries. However, most of the discussion and scope of this books is until the time of Kalamandalam and Sri Pattiykkamthodi Ravunni Menon , who is instrumental in setting up the training in Kalamandalam and one of the heroes of the Kalluvazhi style ( kallucazhichitta) of Kathakali.

What would have been included ( or is that a scope for another book ?) is post -Kalamandalam era ( 2nd half of 20th century) and the current status of the so called Southern Style ( Thekkan Chitta) of Kathakali. The other major change affected all traditional art, I think, is the introduction of advanced technology. From the amplification , lighting and the improvements in the dresses (using fiber thrown among many others) were also not been discussed. As I said, this is now visible to the current generation and there is ample time for another discussion on this subject.

Kathakaliyude Rangapathacharithram (2007)

Killimangalam Vasudevan Namboodiri & M P S Namboodiri

Mathrubhumi Books

Rs 125

256 Pages

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins

At last, I have finished reading the God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. It had been 3 weeks since I have taken up this book. I do not take up multiple projects ( reading some of these books are like projects, they need so much dedication and attention from you) at the same time and had very interrupted reading thanks to my travels and domestic schedules. Now that I have finished reading this let us get to the matters.

I do not want to get into another review of this book as it has been reviewed by many able people at various places. This book has already caused so much debate and I would not get into the debate of GOD affairs. However, Dawkins has done a courageous attempt to take the discussion of God hypothesis from the academics and theologist to the people. What used to remain a discussion among few is not have a wider audience.

While the book is about the GOD Delusion, I find the discussion and his 'anger' is less towards the concept of God but more towards the religion and rightly so. It is the religion and the religious community who vehemently protect their religion by violent means is under the discussion. He also points out that every war / fights in the ancient and moder worlds are always between religions or sects. ( While I prefer to look at them from an economic angle, I find this a strong enough point).

The other interesting discussion which I liked was on the morality. As a practice, morality is always linked to the religions beliefs and he proves the non existing relation between morality and religion.

Personally, I do not believe in 'God as an answer to anything unknown'. I believe that there are many phenomenon in the nature yet to be known to us and our constant effort to bring lights to these will lead us into many more discoveries.

However, I find this quote very interesting.
"You'd better believe in God, because if you are right you stand to gain eternal bliss and if you are wrong it wont make any difference anyway. On the other hand, if you don't believe in God and you turned out to be wrong, you get eternal damnation, where if you are right it makes no difference" - Blaise Pascal

In case you want to find out where do you stand, check this and decide..

1. Strong theist : 100% probability of God. I dont believe, I know.

2. Very high probability but short of 100% : De facto theist. "I can not know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that HE is there"

3. Higher than 50% but not very high : Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. "I am very uncertain, but I'm inclined to believe in God".

4. Exact 50% : Completely impartial agnostic. "God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable".

5. Lower than 50% but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. " I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be sceptical".

6. Very low probability, but not zero: De Facto atheist. "I can not for certain but I think God id very improbable, and I live my life on the ssumption that he is not there".

7. Strong atheist. "I know there is no God, with the same conviction


The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
Bantam Press
405 Pages
Dont remember how much I paid !!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Weights and measures - Joseph Roth

This book, considered by many as a 20th century classic. I wanted to read this for the past 10 years or so. I was unsuccessful until last month, when I accidentally came across this title in a bookshop. I had managed to get hold of his another book The Legend of the Holy Drinker a couple of yeas back.

Anslem Eibenschutz moves to the district of Zlotogrod as an Inspector of Wights and Measures. He had to take this job on the insistence of his wife. As in case of every Army men, civilian life and dress are not making Herr Eibenschutz very happy. He however, goes on with his new job. Typical to an army man, he is truthful to his job and is already a name spoken with fear and contempt by the shopkeepers and merchants. Unlike, his predecessor, he is strict and non corrupt.

While things are fine at the office front, it is not all that good at the family front. Already a trouble marriage, and without a child, Eibenshutz and his wife leads an uninteresting life without love or affection. Soon he realises that his wife is having an affair with his clerk. He manages to get his clerk transferred to another district, but not before her wife is pregnant with the clerks son. Shaken and raged Eibenschutz spends less and less time at home and becomes a frequent at eh border tavern, known for its notorious activities. He became attracted to a Gypsy woman who is the mistress of the landlord Jadlawker. In a sudden turn of event, Eibenschutz gets Jadwalker arrested and put in prison and takes over the running of the tavern by an order.
As he manages to take his new found love for the woman and alcohol cherish, another tragedy hits the districts in the form of Cholera. People after people are falling prey to this and the life in the district is affected by this. He looses his wife and son( of Clerk) to the disease. Though he survived the epidemic, his life also gets to a tragic end.

This book is written in the year of 1937 and he himself drank his way to the grave ( as written in the credits) at a young age of 45. Reading this book under isolation this will not give you a good impression. It looks just like any other 20th century fiction from the first half. As Milan Kundera says in his new book ( the curtain) , no fiction can be understood without having basic knowledge of the author, the period and the geography. From that point of view this book was very interesting to me. Whole book gives us an atmosphere of loss and unhappiness to me and the epidemic adds to already pathetic state of people. The villagers live an uneventful life , the only place of action being the tavern full of escaping people from the Soviet Union, drinking their way to the new freedom, before migrating to far away lands such as Canada , South America.

Here is a short article from Granta by Michael Hoffman on The Rediscovery of Joseph Roth
Wiki details of Joseph Roth

Wights and Measures
Written By : Joseph Roth ( Translated from German by David Le Vay )
Published by : Peter Owen , London
150 Pages
Rs 349.20

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid

I picked up this book at the landmark as it was kept under the 'recommended' section along with Paulo Coelho's book. Written by a Pakistan born US based author and the recommendation made me buy this book.
Written at the backdrop of the 9/11 bombing and the changes in the world order there after is the backdrop of this very ordinary novel. Written as a first person narration by young Changez, who is from Lahore, Pakistan, studied at the Princeton University ( the author himself is studied there) and get a lucrative job at a financial consulting firm. The story of his relationship with beautiful but melancholic Erica, and the typical corporate life takes a definitive turn after the eventful attack on US. The personal trauma of what is happening at his home town ( this is when the terrorists made an unsuccessful attempt on Indian Parliament House and the followed up military concentration and movement towards the Indo-Pak border ) and his demanding job makes him to abandon his job and the relative financial fortune in the US , to return to him home town.
It is written as it being told to a US stranger in Lahore and he try to bring in some kind of twist to the story at the end ( there is no reason or justification). Overall I find this very ordinary read and not worthy of recommendation.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Written by Mohsin Hamid ( English , Pakistan born)
Penguin Books
187 Pages
Rs 295/-

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Long way gone - memoirs of a boy soldier by Ishmael Beah

"It is not your fault" , Esther the nurse tells him, so does the others at the rehabilitation center. The world ask "whose mistake is it"? "Who stole their childhoods" ? Why is it, that even in the 21st Century, the world is at war, why does the innocent had to suffer for the gain of a few ? Why is that millions and millions of people homeless and starving ?

Ishmael Beah, a former boy soldier in the war trodden Sierra Leone , brings out a memoir of his troublesome period of his life to tell the world of the gruesome events unfolds in front of him as he witnessed, participated and recovered from. Written as a first person narrative, the story takes us to the villages of Sierra Leone, where the rebel forces of Revolutionary United Front , popularly known as RUF , is on a decade long civil war with the armed forces in a rich country destroyed by war, corruption and many coup attempts to topple the elected government.

His memoirs starts with his childhood days with his family, brother and friends. His fascination to the new generation Rap music and dance. One day, Ishmael with his brother and friends leaves for the nearby town to see the rap music event and participate. Little did they know that they are on a journey , never to return.

While returning , they comes to know that the rebels have attacked their village and destroyed the houses and killed the people. The run for safety and food starts from then. The vast part of the book is dedicated to this task of running away from the rebels, the people they meet whose fate is no better than theirs, few unexpected helps from survived villagers. Being chased and caught by village protection team suspecting them as rebels... and the gruesome incidents and stories experienced by survivors. In one of the skirmishes he also loose his brother, never to see him again. The fate takes him to the army camp and being trained to hold the AK-47s, the machine guns, the RPGs Ishmael becomes one of the hard core military man at the age of 13. Multiple encounters with the rebels, the bullet shots, death of colleagues, slitting of the throat , setting fire, looting the food and valuables etc are described in detail, looks very familiar as from a hollywood movie scene. Marijuana, cocaine and "brown brown" overdoses keeps away the tender feelings away, to give them the mental strength to carry out these gruesome acts.

The efforts of UNICEF and other Peace keeping Missions, gets Ishmael and few of his friends to the rehabilitation center at Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. I liked the pages describing the effects of "withdrawal syndrome" to the group and his reaction of the "civilians" commanding the "military"men. Gradually, he comes to senses and after a successful rehabilitation, he is re-instated to the normal society , adopted by his paternal uncle as a member of his family. Everything is not normal as events unfolds. A successful coup attempt and the control of Freetown by the new regime, makes the life worse for all. Ishmael fears that he will eventually get back to the killing ways, by forcefully joining the army. He plans his escape from the country which once was his home. The book is written by Ishmael after his escape to the US and after his successful graduation.

This is a war memoir, and not to be called a literary revolution. It brings about the true story of every single boy soldiers fighting the civil war at every part of the world. We are used to the "selective" reporting of the war journalists and here is a story by someone who has seen it all , done it all. It is difficult to write such a memoirs without the emotions taking the first seat. However, Ishmael Beah has done a fantastic job in getting the facts first in a very touching and moving ( at many places) narrative. Language is apt and crisp and it is written as told by a young boy.

Sierra Leone was recently in news in the movie "Blood Diamond" . The RUF rebels which controls the majority of the diamond mines uses innocent child laborers in the mining of diamonds. The book also gives us the chronological events that shaped (?) the current state of the country Sierra Leone.

A Long Way Gone - memoirs of a Boy Soldier
Written by Ishmael Beah ( Sierra Leone / US )
Published by Harper Perennial
229 Pages ( Paperback)
Rs 295/-
PS : Erstwhile dictator of Liberia , Charles Taylor has been under custody of International Crime Beaureau for his alleged involvement in the Sierra Leon civil war. he is being investigated for his support ( financially and arms) of RUF in return of Diamonds.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Witch of Portobello - Paulo Coelho

The new book from the 'most popular' South American writer was released in India last month. I say most popular because, I think he is currently the most discussed or sought after author in India , more that Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
I have read all the books released of Paulo Coelho in English, I have decided to get this book as well. He is not my most liked South American author.He has a very European way of writing and is very deliberate in his words.
The story of Athena, a gypsy parental girl adopted by Lebanese couple and grew up in Beirut and London. The mystical path inherited in her blood gives her visions of the Holy Angels during her childhood. The family moves into England following the disrupt and war in Lebanon and like everyone Athena too gets to the normal life of love, wedding , child and job routine . Multiple events with mystical backgrounds ( the house owner who plays the Siberian music to a team into trance , the Arabian calligraphy teacher ) awaken her quest for knowing the truth and "filling the spaces" of her life. She takes a tour to her native(?) Romania in search of her real mother and the meeting with the mysterious spiritual teacher, her gypsy mother and others takes a different turn in her life. Athena now become the protagonist of the "the Mother" and slowly develop a cult like following. During the ceremonies she become the incarnation of Hagia Sofia ( the name she invent for herself when she is in touch with "the mother" ) and gives sermon to the followers curing illness, helping in love lif and other miracles . And as it turns out she became the object of a modern-day witch hunt in England and a topic of discussion in the divided society.
As the case of his earlier fictions, Paulo Coelho, mixes Philosophy , mysticism and religion with his acute style of writing. This novel is also uses a new method of story telling; first person re-collection of people who are in some way associated or related to Athena. Each chapter is written as narrated by one of the participant to the author. The only other novel I remember to use a similar style is Life A user's manual by George Perec ( I read this book 10 years ago and writing from memory: I could be wrong).
And finally, it is a well written book and will go well with people who like his style of writing. However, this is not a COMPELLING BOOK ( as the critics say ) in anyway.

The Witch of Portobello
Author : Paulo Coelho
Harper Collins
322 pages ( paperback)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Road to Guantanamo : Movie

Just finished watching this movie about 3 British citizen's true story about being detained at the (in)famous Guantanamo bay.
This movie caught my attention after it was adjudged as the best film in last years Berlin International film festival. Directed by Michael Witherbottom and Mat White cross, this movie follows the three young Muslim Britishers from Tipton , Birmingham to Pakistan to attend the wedding of one of their friend and their entry into Afghan for more of a curiosity factor ( to help people is too hard to believe). This was at the time when US started their campaign in Afghan after the 9/11. Story, partially told as documentary , partially as the drama in the cinema faction and partially as commentary ( by the real victims in discussion, I presume) does get one's attention to the happening and branding of innocent people as the members of Taliban or Al-Qaida by the captors. After holding them prisoners without any charges for more than 2 years , they were released from detention.
There are sufficient scenes of tortures and abuses by the soldiers , as it is already known to the world. These days Guantanamo bay is used similar to Auschwitz or Buchenwald.
From a cinematic view , this movie disappointed me. Lie Fahrenheit 9/11 , I would put this as another political movie and it shows the sufferings from the hands of the Allied Army ( than the Internal struggle or any personal side of the story) and nothing more.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Curtain - Milan Kundera

By writing the story of Don Quixote, Cervantes tore open the curtain that represented the perceived world and revealed the world untold to the people says Milan Kundera in his new book called The Curtain. Cervantes' Don Quixote, and Francois Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel, considered as the starting of this new form of literature and he says the novel has to reveal ( remove the curtain ) some previously unrecognised human life.

This book I would consider a sequel to his earlier book called "The Art of Novel". He takes of from where he left us in the art of novel. Kundera discusses history , continuity of the art form, the progress and history of this art form. As in the case of the art of novel he rely on the older generation of European novelists from Cervantes , Kafka , Tolstoy , Musil etc etc for his explanations.

Novel defined by one of its early protagonist ( Fielding) is "a quick and sagacious penetration into the true essence of all the objects of our contemplation". "A novelist is born out of the ruins of his lyrical world" . "The writer's work isonly a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this book. The reader's recognition in himself of what the book says is the proof of the book's truth", as stated by Marcel Proust defines the meaning of the very art of novel.

Art has a continuity. To understand and relish an artform you will also need to understand its transformation and continuity. As Kundera put it, Every modern writers have taken inspiration from their earlier generation of writers. James Joyce from Flaubert , Feilding from Cervantes , Stendhal from Fielding, Marquez from Kafka. A novel is never confines within the state or countries boundary and it has a wider reach among all the people of the world. National Literature has no meaning these days, we are in the era of World Literature.

Milan Kundera is one of the few authors, I would not miss any books , whether it is his fiction or his non-fiction writings. And I prefer his non-fiction these days as his recent fictions books , ignorance or slowness did not impress me much. I have been seeing the arrival of this book from Amazon for a while and it is not available in India yet. Hence I had to shell out some extra money to buy this on my travel.

I found this book very interesting and easy reading. It was a little hard to understand when I was reading the "art of novel" and comparing to the earlier experience I found this reading much easier. Of cource, Ar of the novel was read about 12 years back and I have definitely read much more and have aged ( may be a little wiser). If you are a seriour reader of literature ( especially world literature) , this book is a must read and will enhance your own understanding of this form of art.

Before I end, I found this statement made by one of his friend to him after the fall of the communist regime in Czeckoslovakia and they have embarked the capitalist economy. It summarises the fate of every developing nations "Commercial stupidity has replaced the ideological stupidity".

If you like a more detailed review ( which I find the best ) click here

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cannes festival

After days of speculation, the results are out. Surprisingly , ( and I'm happy about it) most of the prestigeous awards are gone to the lesser known movies, directors and actors.

Of late, Cannes festival has also been hijacked by the hollywood bigwigs and those movies get the majority of the media coverage leaving the upcoming movies and directors far behind. In the process, some of the best movies are forgotten and not recognised appropriately.

Now, I need to get hold of these movies....

The results can be viewed here...

By the way, what are these Indian movie folks doing over there ?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Roaring Nineties - Joseph Stiglitz

I have just finished reading this amazing book on the economics of the nineties and the new millenium by Joseph Stiglitz. Stiglitz is the winner of Nobel Prize for economics and have been involved in the direction and policy decisions of the Clinton administration and have the real insiders view of the things that shaped up.

Stiglitz looks at all the things that helped America to witness one of the strongest decade in the history in terms of Economic growth and looks at the underlying factors of this phenomenal growth. The decade after the initial recession, have shown the robust growth through out all parameters in the America , in terms of GDP , unemployment, revenue deficit.

The book examines in detail the rele of federal govt and the federal agencies in the economy and how does the policy decisions and plans helps the industry and the econimics of the country.

He is also critical of the follow up Governments and their popular tax cut, and how it had helped the rich to manipulate the system and reap money out of the investors pocket. He examines the events after the 2000, and teh collapse of the stock market , including the manipulation by the CEOs and the directors of the corporate , cheating the investors.

There is detailed analysis on the collapse of market and the industry with the example of Enron case study and tells us how , corporate greed , de-regulation, globalisation , corrput accounting practices can erase the lifetime savings of the workers and investors.

Stiglitz is also critical about America's policy abroad on globalisation. He sites examples on how America preaches to the world and does the opposite at home. The advantage America had as the only superpower in terms of Economy and Military streangth , used to create a unipolar world advocating the capitalist economy as practiced US -style. History gives us enought examples on how these have gone wrong in multiple countries and how the confidence of a US-led economy is eroding in the developing countries. Examples of Mexico, Argentina in the latin Americas, Korea , Thailand , Indonesia and Malaysia in the East, Russia and other commuist coutries in the Europe are there fopr all to see.

We have seen most of the post communist countries have elected the erstwhile communist back to power, the entire Latin America is now being ruled by leftist governments are giving us the indication that the US led globalisation policies are not being acceptable to many around the world.

While this is a book on US Economics and associated development around the world, it gives us enough insight on the different parameters of the financial matters. This biook is not written for the economic elite or students. This is meant for the common man and for someone who is keen to have a basic knowledge on the economics at the higher level.

I would say this book has enhanced my knowledge on the economics and the learning I had will defeintely improve my understanding of the global economics and politics to a significant amount.

The roaring Nineties
by Joseph Stiglitz
Penguin Books
346 pages

Friday, May 04, 2007

A short history of Myth - Karen Armstrong

I have picked this book up from Hyderabad Airport as I was waiting for the boarding announcement. A small book with a very catching name. As I briefed through the pages to see what is being discussed, grew interested and picked it up.

It is amazing to know how the myths are created and being created even now. What is the role of myths in human life and how they are important. Myths are ways of connecting our mortal lifes to the unknown or are they the imaginations of our forefathers. What do they teach us ?

The book is written in seven chronologically seperated chapters

The Paleolithic Period: The Mythology of the Hunters' (c. 20000 to 8000 BCE);
The Neolithic Period: The Mythology of the Farmers' (c. 8000 to 4000 BCE);
The Early Civilizations' (c. 4000 to 800 BCE);
The Axial Age' (c. 800 to 200 BCE);
The Post-Axial Period' (c. 200 BCE to c. 1500 CD);
The Great Western Transformation' (c. 1500 to 2000 CE).

As the chapters indicate, the creation and the progression of myths as the human race has developed in this world are described amazingly. Myths are created in this world because they are your connection to the world of unknown , the world where there are no explanation. In the early ages, where hunting was the only job, most of the myths ( as you see in the cave drawings etc) are related to that. As we progress through the ages, it is interesting to see how the myths and the religion have changed and how newer versions of the myths are created. She spends ample pages discussing the clash of 'mythos' versus 'logos' toward the later part of the Christ Era ( 15 th to 20th century ) where for western philosophers and scientist wanted to know the truth and how the world order has changed. This has made quantum jump in the scientific world and the important of myths started to take a back seat.

On the other hand it is the history of the human race through the myths. From the hunters to farmers to traders and to the latest information age, the human race had travelled a long way and dropped few old myths and embarked newer ones to the changing spiritual , religious order.
A very clear thoughts and writing has made this a compelling read and her experience as a religious history writer helps her in getting to the discussion with ease. Except in the end pages, where the future is discussed with respect to the western civilisation (which I find unconvincing) , the book is very well researched and informative.

Before I end, I would like to quote the following paragraph from the book:

" We need myths that will help us to identify with all our fellow being, not simply with those who belong to our ethnic, national or ideologic tribe. We need myhts that help us to realise the importance of compassion, which is not always regarded as sufficiently productive or efficient in our pragmatic, rational world. We need myths that help us to create a spiritual attitude, to see beyond our immediate requirements, and enable us to experience a transcendent value that challenges our solipsistic selfishness. We need myths that help us to venerate the earth as sacred once again, instead of merely using it as a resource. It is crucial, because unless there is some kind of spiritual revolution that is able to keep abreast of our technological genius, we will not save our planet."

A short history of Myths
by Karen Armstrong
Penguin Books
Rs 225

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Leading at a higher level - Ken Blanchard

I received this book from my Boss along with the letter of elevating my role and responsibilities. It has been a practice here to give management books for every occasion.

I'm not a great fan of management books. However, I have decided to read this book after keeping it pending for 3 months. Wanted to do so, before boss remembers this and ask if I had read it.

I'm no one to comment about the content as it is a result of huge experience and research and that is evident in the writing. There are lot of valuable inputs and tips for leadership, few of which we go through the skill sessions at Office. There are a few interesting observations and comments about the teams.

What I found lack in this is real life examples ( there are very few) and case studies, which would have made it an interesting read.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Fateless - Movie ( Hungary )

I had my post on the novel by the same name, only few weeks back. It was a pleasent surprise to see the movie being featured in one of the channel.

An adaptation of the novel by Nobel Laureate Imre Kertesz, this movie was released in Hungarian in 2005. From what ever I could see ( I missed the starting) , I would say the director and the cast has done justification to the original.

Another haunting experience of the holocaust terror through the eyes of a 14 yr old boy.

Like every autobiagraphical stories, this movie to gets into narration to take the story forward. I'm not a great fan of this technique.

Directed by Lajos Koltai
Lead actor Marcell Nagy

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Three Movies

There is nothing you do while sitting in a plane on a long journey, but to sleep or watch movies. Here is a snapshot of the 3 movies I watched.

1.Blood Diamond
This is a movie I wanted to watch for a long time but could not. Already a controversial film, winning some critics acclaim, multiple nominations at the Oscar with a couple of wins, and objected by certain business interests. May be that is the only attraction about this film.
Africa is a continent marred with civil wars and ethnic struggles. And may be it was retained so, by the vested interests for their business purpose. Movie set in the Sierra Leone during the civil war in 1999, it portrays the fighting between the government forces with the RUF ( revelutionary United Front) with all its brutality and atrocities.

Solomon Vandy , a fisherman, is captured by the RUF rebels and forced to work in the diamond fields after being seperated from his family. While working there Solomon finds a rare large diamond and hide the treasure as the government forces attack the RUF camps. He too get arrested with the RUF leader. A white mercenary ( Leonardo DiCaprio) from Rhodesia trades arms with the RUF for diamonds.

The movie is the struggle of Solomon to re-unite with his family, to get the diamond by Archer and to write the sensational story by an American journalist played by Jennifer Conelly. It goes through the predictable routine and ending. Overall, a good movie with some brilliant individual performances.

2. Je Vais Bien Ne T'En Fais Pas ( Dont Worry, I'm Fine) - French
What I like about these movies are that they are from real life. There is no influence of make belief hollywood movies and they stick to the basic of movie making.

A story about a typical midle class family trying to cope with the trauma of their missing son. Lili Tellier comes to know that her twin brother has left home over a fight with their father on her return from holidays in Barcelona. She goes through depression and psychiatric treatment, before she receives a letter from her brother telling her that he is travelling around and will not want to stay with their father anymore. Her attempts to find him is in vain and like her brother she too leaves home and decides to stay seperate. Letter continues to arrive from different cities each time and the life gets back to the normal until one day she finds out that it was her father who was posting all these letters from different places. As the truth unfolds, the family relationship becomes more and more complex.

A wonderfully crafted movie with top class performances from every actor.

Directed by Philippe Lioret based on a novel by Olivier Adam.

3. The Days of Abandonment (I Giorni Dell'abbandono ) - Italy
An ordinary movie about seperation and the struggle for survival by the wife. Usual story of husband leaving for another woman and the subsequent despair and sense of loss by the wife. The usual neglect of the house and kids and the blame game, helpful neighbour and all. As expected , after a mishap, the lady re-group herself and get back to her new life.

Nothing worthwhile to mention here except for the fine performance by the lead lady ( Margarita Buy).

Directed by Roberto Faenza based on a novel by Elena Ferrante.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Fateless - Imre Kertesz

"What ? Do you still want to live" , the German voice was heard being told to the one of the body thrown to the cart before taken away for clearing, fourteen year old Gyuri hoped it was not going to be painful. I would like to live a little bit longer in this beautiful concentration camp.

Anther story of endurance and survival of the Auschwitz and Buchenwald being told years after the end of 2nd worldwar. The literary world has given us so many untold stories of survival and here is one of the important book, may not be the best ( of what I read I liked Elie Weisel )

Imre Kertesz, the winner of Nobel Prize for Literature in the year 2002 comes out with his version of the concentration camp in the eyes of a 14 year old boy from Hungary. This book, which is said to be semi-autobiographical focusses on the endurance and survival of the young boy. The novel starts with a holiday in school for Gyuri as his father was asked to join the labor service from the next day. They wanted to spend the day together. Within few months,he too was asked to disembark the vehicle he was travelling to work and was joined the other group of people from Hungary in a train to Auschwitz and later to Buchenwald. On arrival, he join the elders lying about his age and he see the boys, injured and unfit being taken away, presumably to the gas chambers as he hear later.

After the initial surprises and the rumors and stories about the gas chambers and the tents and works, there is no pictures of the torture and humiliation being told here unlike most of the holocaust movies and novels. Because he does not speak Hebrew , he becomes an outcast among his people and barring few, he does not have any friends in the camp. Like everyone in the camp, he too grow immune to the feelings of life and nothing ever matters to him. He does not feel pain while beaten, does not feel pain while they nurse his wound, not even hungry. This make him sick and he spend the major part of his life in the hospital bed between life and death until, one day they are announced free to leave the camp to their home.

The book was written in Hungarian in 1975 after 30 years of the second world war and will definitely haunt you for few days. however, from a literary point of view, this book does not belong to the elite group, irrespective of the Nobel Committee's recognition.

You can read an interview of Imre Kertesz at

Fateless is now being made as a motion picture in Hungarian.

by Imre Kertesz ( Hungarian translated by Tim Wilkinson )
262 Pages
Rs 438/-
Vintage Books

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Kalamandalam Padmanabhan Nair

Sri Kalamandalam Padmanabhan Nair , one of the legend in the field of Kathakali, is no more. I had read about his demise in the news paper today.

Many of those sleepy nights sitting in the front rows with his 'Brahmanan' in Santhanagopalam, 'Hamsam' in Nalacharitham 1, 'Durvasav' in Rugmangadacharitham etc etc are still visible in front of my eyes.

For many he was a great teacher, the best as they say, in the Kalluvazhi Chitta ( Style) of Kathakali. How many talented artists are moulded under his strict and able guidance. One name "Kalamandalam Gopi" is enough to keep his name as the best Guru ever in the field of Kathakali as long as the world lasts. I still can remember the star studded Kalamandalam Major Set ruling the field of Kathakali with the likes of Ramankutty Nair, Padmanabhan Nair etc.

He was multi - talented or multi-faceted. An artist, a kathakali Guru and prolific writer , administrator of Kalamandalam as Principal , he was always at top.

It is a sad and irreplaceable loss to the Kathakali World in particular and to the art world in general. May his soul rest in place.